By: Nathan W, @NWerremeyer
I may be older than you, but I’m right there with you! I know what it’s like to send what seems to be like an endless amount of applications for your first job in athletics only to be welcomed with rejection. I know what it’s like to lay awake at night wondering where you’ll be next year. Still here? Somewhere else? I know what it’s like to almost want to give up. So I’m here to say, don’t you dare give up! It may seem like it’ll never happen for you but trust me, it will. I know this because I’m living everything I just talked about right now!
I started my professional career as an athletic trainer at a high school in Colorado and soon realized there was much more to athletics than working 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week, taping ankles and watching teenagers practice. So I thought what I needed was a change of scenery and to climb the ATC ladder and work at a college. I quickly found a head athletic training position at a community college in Missouri and thought I fixed my career “loneliness” for good. Until I got the taste. The taste of being a leader that is! Again, I quickly realized I didn’t fix the problem I only shinned a light on it and brought it to the surface. Prepping for games, scheduling, announcing, crowd management, budgeting (I know, its lame, I get excited over budgets….), mentoring staff and students, all gave me the nudge and realization that I wanted to become an Athletic Director. But I was stuck, or at least that’s what I felt like, and pigeon-holed as the “trainer”.
My first step towards the AD chair was to better myself through education by getting my Master’s degree in Sports Management and soaking up as much as I could from the AD at the school where I worked. I was lucky to have a boss that was willing to let me do as much as I wanted too! The next step was to try and convince the school to hire me as the full-time Assistant Athletic Director and Director of Sports Medicine. My proposal and argument was that I was already doing all the roles and responsibilities of an Assistant AD and just not getting compensated for it. Well, my air tight proposal was shot down like a quail in season! No money in the budget to hire me full-time and add me to the staff. That’s not the end of the story though!
I didn’t give up because someone told me no. What did I do?
That’s right, that’s what I said, volunteer…. I offered to keep doing what amounted to Assistant AD responsibilities for free if the school would officially give me the title and its responsibilities. That’s how I broke my way into the industry, as an Assistant AD and Director of Sports Medicine at a Division I Community College.
First, my advice to you is what I said earlier, don’t give up! I didn’t give up and I am not going to any time soon, or ever! So keep at it. I’m a volunteer Assistant AD making just enough to pay my bills and eat some bread and water for dinner, and I’m loving the experience I’m getting. So don’t give up.
Secondly, volunteer for as much as you possibly can! Step out of your comfort zone and ask to do things at your school, or in your community, that you know little to nothing about. You’ll gain valuable experience in the process. Volunteer your time on some committees at your school or even at your local church. Any experience interacting with other people will be valuable to you when you’re put in charge of a department someday. To be an effective and successful AD you’re going to have to know a little bit about a lot of stuff! Calming a rowdy fan, fixing a broken bleacher, keeping the scorebook, making popcorn are all small things that I guarantee you’ll have to do sometime in your career. I volunteered for things like licking the envelopes of our season ticket mailers to promotions at the Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. As Bob Beaudine once said, “If you want to have something that you’ve never had before, you’ve got to be willing to do something that you’ve never done before!”
Thirdly, network your tail off! And this doesn’t mean making a phone call every few months. You’ve got to get your name out there and brand yourself as an experienced professional in the industry! When you send your application materials into a school, if the hiring manager doesn’t know you personally, you’d better bet the farm they are going to Google you! And if your online presence isn’t nearly spotless, you’re probably going to get tossed in the “No” pile before they make it to the end of your resume. So clean up your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tinder…. Have your grandmother look over your social media presence and if she cringes at something, so will the hiring manager.
You also have to get out there with more than phone calls. Are there schools within driving distance of you? Call up someone in the athletic department and ask to meet them or have lunch. I’ve yet to have someone tell me no to lunch! Who doesn’t like food and talking about themselves? Right? After meeting people, you need to follow up with them too. WRITE them a thank you letter. With a pen, on paper!
Then you need to get out and involved in some type of professional development. For instance, I take part in a small school chat on Twitter, #scachat, every Sunday night. I’ve been able to meet lots of administrators through that avenue and now they know who I am because I contribute and follow up with them. Also, don’t be afraid to blog or write about something you’re passionate about. Why do you think I’m writing this…? And don’t be intimidated or afraid to go to professional conventions and seminars. I’m going to NACDA in Orlando for the first time this summer, and I get to meet all the AD’s I’ve called and connected with over the past two years and put a face with my name. There’s never a shortage of conventions, seminars, or meetings you can attend to network and learn! If you want to know any, call me.
Lastly, my friend and mentor Jim Abbott has consistently told me that I need to devote 110% to my current job while I’m in the process of searching for the next one. Nothing will get you not hired faster than giving up and checking out of your current job that pays your salary. I still try to do the perfect ankle taping every time even though I may never do one again. I still fill the water coolers during basketball season because I’m a servant leader first, and second I want to devote 110% to my current role because my work ethic and image is what’s going to get me hired and closer to the AD chair.
So don’t give up if you’re feeling like nothing is happening. Believe me, it can only get better. As I write this article I’ve applied for something like 85 positions in the past year and a half and gotten 0 phone calls! And I’m not giving up, so neither should you!
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Nathan is the Assistant Athletic Director and Director of Sports Medicine at Mineral Area College in Park Hills Missouri. He’s always on the hunt for new and challenging opportunities to further his career! You can follow him on Twitter here or contact him on his personal website here.